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Roman Medicine

The Romans started by learning what the Greeks thought about medicine, and in fact most Roman doctors were from Greece, or of Greek origin. Like the Greeks, the Romans believed in the four humors and the power of bloodletting. The most important Roman doctor was Galen (GAY-lenn), who lived in the 100s AD and wrote a book about medicine. Galen's book about medicine (actually a shortened version of it) was the main medical book that doctors used in Europe for the next thousand years and more.

Like the African Ptolemy, who lived about the same time, Galen wrote his book to show that the Skeptics were wrong, and people really could use their senses to understand how the world worked. Galen repeated a lot of Hippocrates' work on the four humors, but he also added a lot of observations about how the human body worked that he learned from looking at the insides of human bodies. He saw the insides of people by looking at wounded soldiers and gladiators. And he cut open a lot of animals to see how they worked. He wrote the first good description of the different parts of people's eyes. Galen certainly knew more about anatomy than Hippocrates did. Galen understood that the heart pushed blood around the body, for instance. But he thought that air entered the blood within the heart, instead of in the lungs. Galen knew that nerves controlled the movement of the body, and that people thought with their brains. But Galen did not make any real advances in treating people. He still thought that blood-letting was a good idea.

Learn by doing: dissect a worm to see the organs
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Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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